Tag Archives: Kim Cusack

LESSONS IN LEVITATION: RAY SKJELBRED and his CUBS: RAY SKJELBRED, KIM CUSACK, JOSH ROBERTS, MATT WEINER, JEFF HAMILTON (June 30, 2019)

An inspiration for this inspiring little band.

Thanks to the ever=devoted SFRaeAnn, we have a five-minute treatise on the most inspired floating, created in front of an audience at America’s Classic Jazz Festival in Lacey, Washington, on June 30, 2019.  The players here are Ray Skjelbred, making that old keyboard sound exactly like new; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Josh Roberts, guitar; Matt Weiner, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums. And their particular text is LADY BE GOOD, by George and Ira Gershwin, first performed in 1924 and immediately taken up by jazz musicians, dance bands, and singers of all kinds — from Ben Bernie and the California Ramblers to the present day.

Perhaps because tempos in performance naturally increase, and because it is such a familiar set of chord changes (from the 1936 Jones-Smith, Incorporated recording on) it’s usually played at a brisk tempo.  This performance is a sly glide, a paper airplane dreamily navigating the air currents before coming to a gentle landing.  And — taking the Basie inspiration to new heights — this performance so lovingly balances appreciative silence with sound.

It doesn’t need my annotations: it reveals itself to anyone willing to pay attention.  Watch the faces of the musicians; hear their delighted affirmations.  As James Chirillo says, music was made:

Blessings on them all, past and present, visible and ectoplasmic.  The Cubs lift us up but never drop us down.

May your happiness increase!

“ASSES IN SEATS” AND THE JAZZ ECOSYSTEM

Here’s something comfortable, enticing, seductive.

It’s not my living room, I assure you: too neat, no CDs.

Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Chuck Wilson, alto saxophone; Ehud Asherie, piano; Kelly Friesen, string bass; Andrew Swann, drums.  “Sweet Rhythm,” October 26, 2008, THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

Tal Ronen, string bass; Mark Shane, piano; Dan Block, tenor sax.  “Casa Mezcal,” October 26, 2014, I’LL ALWAYS BE IN LOVE WITH YOU:

(This is not a post about numerology or the significance of October 26 in jazz.)

Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Connie Jones, cornet; Clint Baker, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  “Sweet and Hot Music Festival,”  September 5, 2011, TOGETHER:

Ray Skjelbred and the Cubs: Ray, piano, composer; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass, Katie Cavera, guitar; Jeff Hamilton, drums. “Sacramento Music Festival,” May 25, 2014, BLUES FOR SIR CHARLES:

I will explain.

“Sweet Rhythm” was once “Sweet Basil,” a restaurant-with-jazz or the reverse, in New York City.  Now it is just a restaurant.  “Casa Mezcal,” across the street from the Tenement Museum, also offered jazz as well as food.  Now, only food.  The two California festivals depicted above are only memories now.  (I could have included the Cajun, Bourbon Street, Roth’s Steakhouse, Banjo Jim’s, the Garage, the Bombay Club, Jazz at Chautauqua, and perhaps a dozen other vacancies in the cosmos — in my time, which isn’t the whole history of the music.)  Jazz clubs become apartments, drugstores, dormitories, nail salons.  Or what was once a jazz bar now has karaoke night and game night.

That’s not difficult to take in.  Everything changes.  “Things are tough all over,” as my father said.

But I’ve included the chair and ottoman because so many jazz listeners prefer the comforts of home to live music, and thus, venues collapse and are not replaced.

The expression I’ve heard from festival producers is the blunt ASSES IN SEATS. It presumes that other body parts are attached to the asses, of course.  But it’s simple economics.  When a club owner looks out at the landscape of empty chairs and tables with napkins undisturbed, when there are more musicians on the stage than there are people in the audience, you can imagine the mental cogitations that result.  This has nothing to do with musical or artistic quality — I’ve heard terrible music played to filled rooms, and once in a New York club I was the audience (let that sink in) — not even me, myself, and I — for the first few songs by a peerless band.  And if you think that musicians are a substantial part of the club budget, it isn’t so: a world-famous jazz musician told me once of being paid sixty dollars for three hours’ work, and some of my favorite musicians go from fifty-and-seventy-five dollar gigs, or they play “for the door.”

And as an aside, if you go to a club and sit through two sets with your three-or-five dollar Coke or well drink or standard beer, you are subsidizing neither the club or the music.  Festival economics are different, but even the price of the ticket will not keep huge enterprises solvent.  I hear, “Oh, the audience for jazz is aging and dying,” and the numbers prove that true, but I think inertia is a stronger factor than mortality, with a side dish of complacency.  And people who study the swing-dance scene say that what I am writing about here is also true for younger fans / dancers.

So before you say to someone, “I’m really a devoted jazz fan,” or proudly wear the piano-keyboard suspenders, or get into arguments on Facebook over some cherished premise, ask yourself, “How active is my commitment to this music?  When was the last time I supported it with my wallet and my person?”

I do not write these words from the summit of moral perfection.  I could have gone to two gigs tonight but chose to stay home and write this blog.  And I do not go to every gig I could . . . energy and health preclude that.  And I am also guilty, if you will, in providing musical nourishment for viewers through technology, so that some people can live through YouTube.  I admit both of these things, but on the average I go to more jazz gigs than some other people; I eat and drink and tip at the jazz clubs; I publicize the music here and elsewhere.

But you.  Do you take the music for granted, like air and water?  Do you assume it will go on forever even if you never come out of your burrow and say hello to it, that other people will keep supporting it?  Do you say, “I must get there someday!” and not put wheels under that wish?  Mind you, there are exceptions.  Not everyone lives close enough to live music; not everyone is well-financed, energetic, or healthy.  But if you can go and you don’t, then to me you have lost the right to complain about clubs closing, your favorite band disbanding, your beloved festival becoming extinct. Jazz is a living organism, thus it needs nourishment that you, and only you, can provide.  Inhaling Spotify won’t keep it alive, nor will complaining about how your fellow citizens are too foolish to appreciate it.

If you say you love jazz, you have to get your ass out of your chair at regular intervals and put it in another chair, somewhere public, where living musicians are playing and singing.  Or you can stay home and watch it wither.

May your happiness increase!

ANCIENT SONGS OF LOVE: BOB SCHULZ and his FRISCO JAZZ BAND at “SOUNDS OF MARDI GRAS,” Fresno, California: BOB SCHULZ, RAY TEMPLIN, KIM CUSACK, RAY SKJELBRED, DOUG FINKE, SCOTT ANTHONY, JIM MAIHACK (February 9, 2019)

 

 

I don’t think we automatically perceive hot jazz as the music of romance.  After all, would you woo your Dearest One with ST. JAMES INFIRMARY, YOU RASCAL YOU, PANAMA, or GET OFF KATIE’S HEAD?  But the hot jazz expressions of the late Twenties onwards were based on the music of love as expressed in pop songs with lyrics.  These songs were accessible to the crowd, they could be danced to, and they could be swung.  Think of the recordings of Billie Holiday, Mildred Bailey, Louis Prima, Eddie Condon, and a thousand others up to the present day.  (And I like the coincidence that the first song recorded by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five was MY HEART, by pianist Lil Hardin Armstrong.)

It seems that for every “You trampled on my soul, you heartless cad” song, there are two dozen celebrating the joys of fulfilling love: TEA FOR TWO, I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING, EXACTLY LIKE YOU, SWEET LORRAINE, AS LONG AS I LIVE, HONEY, WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA, I WISH I WERE TWINS, AIN’T SHE SWEET, ALWAYS, SWEET AND SLOW, I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU, YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME, I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU, I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY, I WANT TO BE HAPPY, and so on.

In that spirit, I present four swinging love songs (vocals by Bob Schulz and Scott Anthony) performed and recorded at the “Sounds of Mardi Gras,” in Fresno, California, on February 9, 2019.  The creators here are Bob Schulz, cornet, vocal; Doug Finke, trombone; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Ray Skjelbred, piano; Scott Anthony, banjo, vocal; Jim Maihack, tuba, Ray Templin, drums, vocal.

Meaning no disrespect to the rest of the Frisco Jazz Band, please pay serious attention to what Mr. Skjelbred is doing, in ensemble as well as solo: I’d characterize it as his setting off small melodious fireworks in every performance.  As he does!

Here’s the most ancient chanson d’amour, Tony Jackson’s PRETTY BABY:

and the song Louis used as his entry to a huge popular following (while always remaining himself), I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE:

JUNE NIGHT, with a startling Skjelbred solo:

I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME at a nice easy tempo:

This congenial, amiable ensemble will return to Fresno in February 2020.

May your happiness increase!

RAY SKJELBRED and his CUBS at OLYMPIA, WASHINGTON (June 2019): RAY SKJELBRED, KIM CUSACK, JEFF HAMILTON, MATT WEINER, JOSH ROBERTS

I was closer to home — Beantown in Beverly, Massachusetts — when Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs played several sets (more than forty videos recorded and posted by Rae Ann Berry) at the 28th Annual Greater Olympia Dixieland Jazz Festival, in Lacey, Washington.  Ray also appeared at a crucial member of the Evergreen Jazz Band, which Rae Ann also captured on video for us.

Three of the Cubs were the heroes we know: Ray, piano, vocal, and moral leadership; Kim Cusack, clarinet, vocal; Jeff Hamilton, drums, banter.  But two other stars — Clint Baker and Katie Cavera — couldn’t be there, so Ray brought two splendid young musician-colleagues from the Pacific Northwest, whom you should get to know right away: Matt Weiner, string bass, vocal; Josh Roberts, guitar.  What music they make!

Here are a few glorious samples: finding the rest is not difficult and worth the clicking and mousing.

BOLL WEEVIL BLUES, one I’ve never heard Ray play and sing:

I’LL ALWAYS BE IN LOVE WITH YOU: what if Kim Cusack had been the right age to sit in with the 1937 Basie band?

IDA (for Ida Melrose Shoufler, of course, “Auntie”):

and a blues inspired by an Eddie Condon Commodore record, BEAT TO THE SOCKS:

and another Condon homage, IMPROVISATION FOR THE MARCH OF TIME:

I think of “Buy them, trade them, collect the set!” but that isn’t right: how about “Watch them, enjoy them, honor this music!” You can find more of Rae Ann’s treasures here.

May your happiness increase!

“LARKIN’S LAW” AND ITS DISCONTENTS, or “WHO’S SORRY NOW?”

When I first read poet / jazz-lover / jazz-essayist Philip Larkin’s “law,” some forty years ago, I thought it sardonically amusing, as was Groucho’s “I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.”  Now, I find it and its effects quite sad:

“If I were to frame Larkin’s Law of Reissues, it would say that anything you haven’t got already probably isn’t worth bothering about.  In other words, if someone tries to persuade you to buy a limited edition of the 1924-25 sessions by Paraffin Joe and his Nitelites, keep your pockets buttoned up: if they were any good, you’d have heard of them at school, as you did King Oliver, and have laid out your earliest pocket money on them.”

I’ve always had an odd admiration for Larkin, while making the necessary effort to ignore much of what he wrote: he is the embarrassing relative at the holiday dinner table who shares his racist, misogynistic views.  I am also certain that had we met, he would have satirized me in his diary that evening.  But his vigorous parochialism ran parallel to some of my taste: he thought the 1932 Rhythmakers sessions the height of Western civilization, a sentiment I can understand.

Larkin’s Law would seem valid to many in “the jazz audience” I know, a credo in support of Their Kind of Music.  Caveat immediately: there are so many jazzes and thus so many audiences that I can only speak of the small slice I experience, in person, in correspondence, and through social media.

With JAZZ LIVES as my creation for over a decade, I continue to be thrilled by the music yet often puzzled by the provincialism of the response it receives.  Of course this blog is an expression of my own tastes, which have been shaped by experience(s).  I prefer X to Y even if received wisdom says I shouldn’t.  And although my response may be simply “That band doesn’t move me,” I stand by my aesthetics.

However, even though jazz was once a radical music, an art form relegated to the basement where it wouldn’t upset the pets, the audience can be aesthetically conservative, defining itself in opposition.

As Sammut of Malta writes, people view art as a box rather than as a spectrum.

I think many of the jazz-consumers have decided What They Like and it is often What They Have Always Liked.  Their loyalty is fierce, even in the face of unsettling evidence.  My analogy is the restaurant at which one has a brilliant meal, then a good meal, then a dreadful meal — but one keeps returning, because one always eats there.  Familiarity wins out over the courage to experiment.  “I love this band.  I first heard them in 1978!”

As an aside: I’ve watched audience members at jazz festivals who race to see Their Favorite Band and then talk through the set, applauding loudly what they could not have heard, convinced that they are having the time of their lives.  (This phenomenon is a subject for another blog: it worked its way in here and it deserves its few words.)

Loyalty is a lovely thing, and audience members certainly may gravitate to what pleases them.  If you tell me that Taco Bell is the best Mexican food that ever was, I can protest, I can meet you after lunch, I can invite you to the taqueria down the street, but changing your mind is difficult.  You like what you like for a complex network of reasons, many of them unexamined.

What does worry me is when affection becomes rigidity and turns into a rejection of anything a few degrees away from the Ideal.  It happens on both ends of the aesthetic continuum.  One of my Facebook fans used to dismiss music she found too modern as “Too swingy.”  I suggested to her that jazz of the kind she preferred also swung, but it was clear that some music I embraced seemed heretical to her.  Conversely, “I don’t like banjos and tubas” is a less-heard but prevalent response, to which I want to say, “Have you heard A play the banjo or B play the tuba?  Perhaps your condemnation needs to be refined to ‘I prefer rhythm guitar and string bass in rhythm sections, but other ways to swing can be pleasing as well’.”  I can even say, “Have you heard Bernard Addison and John Kirby in 1933?” but does everyone recognize those names?

In practical terms, Larkin’s Law means that many people reject as unworthy what they do not immediately recognize.  Closing the door on anything even slightly different will not help those who want the music they love to go on.  And it will deny the listener pleasurable surprises.

I, too, know jazz parochialism.  When I was 14, I could have told you that I liked jazz.  Pressed for a definition of what I liked, I would have said Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Benny Goodman small groups, and not much else.  Soon I added the Billie Holiday small groups, 1940 Ellington, 1938 Basie, and so on.  It took a long time before I could “hear” Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie with pleasure and understanding, but I knew there was something worth investigating.  I have not gotten beyond early Ornette or Wilbur Sweatman, but I keep listening and attending live jazz performances.

I know some JAZZ LIVES readers and friends have more open ears than what I describe.  And some of them, whom I celebrate happily, have written to say, “Thank you, Michael, for introducing me to _____ and _________, whom I wouldn’t have heard without your blog.”  Reading this, I think gleefully, “My work on the planet is done,” and go to do the dishes with a big grin.  But I wonder how many listeners have seriously considered, let us say, both Mike Davis and Lena Bloch, Kim Cusack and Ted Brown, Paul Asaro and Joel Forrester, the Chicago Cellar Boys and the Microscopic Septet, Kirk Knuffke and Danny Tobias — to pick a few vivid examples.

My apparent ecumenicism does not mean I like everything.  And I receive a good number of solicitations from music publicists and even CDs: I listen before saying, “No, that’s not for me.”  Rarely do I think, “Wow, that’s bad music!”; rather, I say, “What that artist is doing is not pleasing to me, but that says much about me as well as what it says about the art.”

We all, I believe, fell in love with certain varieties of this art because they made us feel excited, joyous, alive, exuberant — a WOW moment.  For some, the Love Object may be Oliver’s ROOM RENT BLUES or the closing chorus of the Hot Seven’s WEARY BLUES, or a Decca Lunceford, the Jones-Smith session, Hawkins’ SIRIUS . . . .  And no one would propose to say to an enraptured listener, “You really shouldn’t listen to that,” unless one wants to argue.  But what if some musician or band offered a serious WOW moment and the listener had refused to try it out, because, “I don’t listen to anything that isn’t . . . . “?  Should we be so in love with what we love that we keep our ears closed, as if it would be fatal for us to spend two or three minutes with a music that didn’t instantly please us?

Our preferences are strong.  But occasionally those preferences are so negative that they make me envision my fellow jazz-lovers as irritable toddlers.  “Honey, we have A through L for lunch.  What would you like?” The response, in a howl, “No!  No!  No!  Want R!”

There is another manifestation of this calcified reaction, one I perceive regularly through JAZZ LIVES.  Certain artists have powerful magnetism: call it star quality, so whatever they play or sing attracts an audience.  (It is reminiscent of the imagined book with the widest audience, called LINCOLN’S DOCTOR’S DOG.)  I have often thought that the most-desired video I could offer would have technically dazzling music at a fast tempo, performed by young people, women and men both.  A little sexuality, a drum solo, novelty but not too much, evocations of this or the other jazz Deity . . . it’s a hit!

But it also should be music made by Famous Names.  You can compile your own list of stars who often play and sing beautifully.  But when I offer a video without Famous Names, without the visual novelty, fewer people go to it, enacting Larkin’s Law.  “I don’t know who that is.  How could (s)he be any good?”

Do we listen with our ears or our eyes or with our memory for names?

Could listeners, for instance, make serious judgments about music they knew nothing about — the Blindfold Test?  I admire Hot Lips Page above most mortals, but I have learned to be courageous enough to say, “I love Lips, but he seems bored here — he’s going through the motions.”  Whether I am right or not matters less, but making the critical judgment is, I think, crucial.

These thoughts are provoked by Larkin’s Law as an indication of historical allegiance rather than expansive taste, of a narrowness of reaction rather than a curiosity about the art form.

What I conceive as the ideal may seem paradoxical, but I applaud both a willingness to listen outside one’s tightly-defended parameters and, at the same time, to be seriously aware in one’s appreciation and not turn habit into advocacy.  Let us love the music and let us also hear it.

And, in honor of Philip Larkin, who may have stubbornly denied himself pleasure by hewing to his own asphyxiating principles, here are some of his artistic touchstones:

A personal postscript: JAZZ LIVES gives me great joy, and I am not fishing for praise.  Many people have told me in person how much they appreciate my efforts.  But I perceive provincialism creeping up the limbs of the jazz body as sure as rigor mortis, and I would like this music to continue, vigorous, when I am no longer around to video it.

May your happiness increase!

A FULL SET OF HOT AND SWEET MUSIC: BOB SCHULZ and his FRISCO JAZZ BAND (Part Three): BOB SCHULZ, KIM CUSACK, RAY SKJELBRED, DOUG FINKE, JIM MAIHACK, SCOTT ANTHONY, RAY TEMPLIN (Fresno “Sounds of Mardi Gras,” Feb. 8, 2019)

They continue to swing, which is very reassuring.  And here is a combination platter of lovely music from the Fresno “Sounds of Mardi Gras” jazz festival, recorded on February 8, 2019.  The generous creators are Bob Schulz, cornet, vocal; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Doug Finke, trombone; Ray Skjelbred, piano; Scott Anthony, banjo, vocal; Jim Maihack, tuba; Ray Templin, drums, vocal.

 

From that same rewarding weekend, here’s Part One and Two by the Frisco Jazz Band, whose secret is a lovely cohesive swing, no matter what the tempo.

But wait! There’s more!

NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE:

Walter Donaldson’s pretty MY BUDDY, sung by Scott:

The Horace Gerlach standard, SWING THAT MUSIC:

A blue suit and wedding bells for EMALINE:

For Irving Berlin and Bunny Berigan, MARIE:

For George and Gracie, also James P. and Max, LOVE NEST, sung by Ray:

The Hot Five’s ONCE IN A WHILE:

(WHEN IT’S) DARKNESS ON THE DELTA, sung by Scott:

And a closing statement of willingness-to-please, sung by Bob, I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU:

And they do.

I don’t think the other gentlemen of the ensemble will mind my suggestion that once the intent listeners have savored these videos, that they go back and listen closely to the impish and passionate Ray Skjelbred, whose sly adept subversions in solo and accompaniment are beyond remarkable.  I seated myself where I did to video so that I could hear and see him with greater clarity, and his singular playing is singularly rewarding.

This set is in honor of my friend Judy Smith, who didn’t make it to the festival, but enjoys the musical bounces with great enthusiasm.

May your happiness increase!

JAMES. JIM. PROF.

James Dapogny died yesterday.  He was 78 and had been keeping cancer at bay for nine years until he could do it no longer.

Because the absence of people I love is deeply painful, I have embraced the notion that the dead don’t go away, that their temporal selves leave us but they merely move into other neighborhoods.  With Jim’s death, I cannot keep that illusion afloat.  There is a void much larger than his human form that will never be filled.  No parade of clicked-on Facebook sad emojis can express this.  And this sorrow isn’t unique to me: ask anyone who knew him, who learned from him, who savored his creativity and his company.

Prof. and still-active cellist Mike Karoub to Prof’s left. Photograph by Laura Beth Wyman, 2014.

An expansive, restlessly diligent and curious person, he had several names.  When I first met him (at Jazz at Chautauqua, 2004) I timidly called him “Mr. Dapogny,” and because I was shy, my voice was low and he referred to me — just once — as “soft-voiced Professor Steinman” while we were both leafing through Thirties sheet music.  Later, I bought all his records and CDs, where he was “James,” but I summoned up the courage to call him “Jim” to his face and — referring to him in the third person, I took on the affectionate coinage that Laura Beth Wyman, whom he called “my best student in thirty years,” and his dear friend, had created: “Prof.”

I will hand off to Prof.’s friend Kim Cusack for his memories:

Jim was puckish, never morose, so my first musical example is a jam-session rouser.  Keep your ears on the pianist, who explodes into a solo at 4:14:

Although he was characterized as a stride pianist and he loved the music of Fats Waller and Alex Hill, he dismissed that categorization, and told me that his mentors were Stacy, Sullivan, and Morton.  In the fashion of those three great individualists, his playing was full of spiky surprises — arresting commentaries that could woo and distract in the ensemble or when he accompanied a soloist.  I think he found stride conventions constricting, possibly monotonous, so I hear him as a Pee Wee Russell of the piano: going his own completely recognizable ways while uplifting all around him, creating bright-sounding treble lines but also providing solidly original harmonic support and rhythmic propulsion.  He was never predictable but always heroically satisfying.

But LADY BE GOOD, because it was impromptu (rain and wind made reading charts impossible) was not what Prof. liked best.  He delighted in “paper,” that is, arrangements — but they were charts with plenty of breathing room for the splendid soloists he hired and nurtured.  Here’s his powerfully blue version of the Ellington-Stewart MOBILE BAY, also from Evergreen 2014:

and another 2014 romper — this time, because the weather was better, the band could use Prof.’s charts:

Here is Prof. and a band in 2012 — note his dry whimsical introduction:

and a piano solo on one of the most familiar jazz ballads, uniquely Dapogny:

Jim (I have shifted to the non-academic because it feels warmer) was also terribly funny, in person and in print.  David Sager says he had “a sly and delicious wit,” which all of us experienced.  He was a wordsmith, a jester, a stand-up comedian, a sharp-edged deflater, a Michigan S.J. Perelman.  A deadpan improvising comedian, he didn’t mug and pander on the stand, preferring to let the heartfelt music speak.

He and I exchanged emails from 2011 to October 2018: a coda from one of his:

P.S. I don’t know if you ever read the columns of humorist Dave Barry, but I did because Wayne Jones used to send me bundles of them. The ones I liked best were those entitled “Ask Mr. Language Person,” in which Barry answered usage questions ostensibly sent in by readers. One asked about rules for the use of quotation marks in small-business signs. Barry answered that quotation marks
were to be used on words chosen at random. Then he gave three examples.
Try Our “Pies”
Try “Our” Pies
“Try” Our Pies
To me this is absolutely hilarious. It still makes me laugh.

My relationship with Jim grew and deepened.  When I first met him, I was intimidated by his comic rapier, and when I got to know him a little better, I asked him to put it down, which he did without fuss.  The more I encountered him, the more I admired him.  And finally I — like everyone else who knew him — loved him.

I took him on as one of my not-so-secret spiritual fathers, even though he was only a dozen years my senior.  The blend of humor and toughness (he could have shown up in a 1935 Warner Brothers picture, although not as the gangster lead) reminded me of my own father, so he was dear to me.  I originally wrote, “I hope I didn’t embarrass him too much with my direct affection,” but on second thought I hope I did embarrass him: that way I would know he had received the message I was sending.

He was extremely kind, superbly generous.  I had asked him to write a letter for me in support of a sabbatical I was hoping for, and I dare not read that letter now because I would not be able to write through tears.  And every so often he would praise something I’d written, which would make me feel like a peculiarly graceful colossus of words and insights.  (Of course, now and again, he corrected my wayward grammar, which made me wince and then rush to fix the lapse.)

Although he knew his own worth, he was infuriatingly modest.  I, and then Laura, shot videos of him in performance at Jazz at Chautauqua, the Evergreen Jazz Festival, and the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party.  The last email response I got from Jim — late October 2018 — concerned a trio video I had sent him to see if  he would agree to my posting it.  (Sometimes when I sent him videos, the answer was silence, which I could never tell whether it was “God, no!” or “I am too busy doing other things more important than considering my own performances.)  His response, the names redacted in true CIA fashion, was, “OK with me, but this doesn’t scream out for preservation except by being documentation that I once weaseled my way into the company of H- and R-.”

He was always busy transcribing charts for PORK, researching new old music, and more.  But I think his secret passion was in what we call, for want of a more gracious term, mentoring.  Ask any musician who played or sang with him: Jon-Erik Kellso to Dawn Giblin to Mike Karoub to Erin Morris to the members of his bands.  Like Ellington, he saw very clearly what strengths we had, and worked tirelessly to bolster us — offering the most gentle helping hand to make people more glorious versions of their natural selves.

One of my great pleasures, was my being able to visit him and Laura and Erin for a few days in 2016.  Yes, Jim was a scholar of all things musical — not just Jelly Roll Morton and James P. Johnson’s operas — and his range was broad.  When I visited Ann Arbor, the plan was that I would stay in a quietly nondescript motel, and work on my blog over breakfast (instant oatmeal from paper envelopes, and coffee) and then Jim and I, sometimes Laura along as well, would eat deliriously good ethnic food in some restaurant that only Jim knew — Indian, Korean, Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese — and the conversation would become expertly culinary as well, because he could cook, away from the piano.  He was truly insightful but ready to applaud others’ insights.

I dreamed of visiting him again, but missed my chance, just as I missed the opportunity to help bring Jim’s band once again to the Evergreen Jazz Festival in Colorado.

It would please me immensely if others who knew Prof., or James, or Jim, would add their voices to this post.  I will close with one of the great beautiful moments captured by video.  I am particularly proud of this 2015 performance because of the lovely music and that it was recorded by my friend Laura Beth Wyman.  Jim’s own FIREFLY:

The moral that James Dapogny’s life and art and generous friendship offers us is very simple.  We are fireflies.  At our best, we are brilliant: we trace paths along the summer night sky.  But we are fragile.  What can we do but live our lives so that when we depart, we are irrevocably missed?  As he is.

I will eschew my usual closing — consider it here but unsaid — to send love and sorrow to Jim’s wife, Gail, to his family, to his friends, to all the people he touched.

Adieu, James.  Farewell, Prof.  We love you, Jim.

ROLLING ALONG: BOB SCHULZ and his FRISCO JAZZ BAND (Part Two): BOB SCHULZ, KIM CUSACK, RAY SKJELBRED, DOUG FINKE, JIM MAIHACK, SCOTT ANTHONY, RAY TEMPLIN (Fresno “Sounds of Mardi Gras,” Feb. 8, 2019)

Just pure pleasure.  An expert gentle band at a friendly festival.  If you need program notes, they are Bob Schulz, cornet and vocal; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Doug Finke, trombone; Ray Skjelbred, piano; Scott Anthony, banjo and vocal; Jim Maihack, tuba; Ray Templin, drums and vocal. This set took place on February 8, 2019, at the Fresno “Sounds of Mardi Gras.”

 

Here is the first part of this set — five easygoing swing performances.

And a thought.  Some audiences, and who am I to criticize them, need their jazz to be in broad strokes and bright colors.  They aren’t happy unless the band is Fast and Loud, as if they wanted their plate of fries with enough salt on them so that they resembled a winter scene.  Although Louis and Sidney Catlett and Bechet are deities to me, I prefer intriguing explorations in the middle register, in medium tempo, at a volume where listeners have to pay attention or they might miss something beautiful.  Traditional jazz doesn’t have to model itself on the 1812 Overture, or at least not all the time.

Bob and his colleagues understand this, and, better yet, they live it in every note.  So here are three more lovely performances from lovely Fresno.  Thanks to the players and the organizers and the friends of the music.

First, Bob plans a journey South and wonders about sleeping arrangements:

Ray bursts forth in romantic happiness, thanks to Alex Hill and Mr. Waller:

And a romping performance of the wearying classic to end the set:

There’s more to come.  I followed this band around devotedly, and you can understand why.

May your happiness increase!

EASYGOING SWING: BOB SCHULZ and his FRISCO JAZZ BAND: BOB SCHULZ, KIM CUSACK, RAY SKJELBRED, DOUG FINKE, JIM MAIHACK, SCOTT ANTHONY, RAY TEMPLIN (Fresno “Sounds of Mardi Gras,” Feb. 8, 2019)

I see by my YouTube archives that I first heard / saw / videoed this band in 2012, and they still sound wonderful, seven years later.  Unlike more aggressive combinations, Bob‘s group is distinguished by consistent lyricism, and even more a refusal to hurry.  This band, although never dull, hurts no one’s ears; no chandeliers are set a-swaying; the Weather Channel never notes their presence as a threat.  Rather, they beautifully pursue the Golden Mean: swinging medium tempos, nicely modulated volume, and a decided lack of Special Effects.  And what results is lovely wise jazz: see their recorded legacy to date here.  Although the personnel of the Frisco Jazz Band has varied over the years, this edition was and is special: Bob, cornet and vocal; Ray Skjelbred, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Doug Finke, trombone; Scott Anthony, banjo and vocal; Ray Templin, drums and vocal; Jim Maihack, tuba.

Here are five performances from the first set I caught: please relax and admire this group’s special relaxed glide.  And, without meaning to slight the rest of the band, I picked a vantage point that would bring me closer to Messrs. Skjelbred and Cusack, two heroes with delightful idiosyncracies that always catch the ear, sometimes unaware, but always with pleasure.  But those in the know will find pleasures in every performance, from each musician.

MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND (with the verse!):

Berlin’s ALL BY MYSELF, which always makes me recall Kenny Davern and friends, at a tempo I would call Stomping Lament:

Bob breaks out his tin-can mute to lend GEORGIA BO BO a certain needed grittiness, much appreciated:

Scott’s tender idiomatic treatment of I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA — pay close attention to Skjelbred’s musing interlude, a spiritual meal in itself:

Henri Woode’s ROSETTA (the proper sources concur on this credit):

There are many more equally gratifying videos to come from this group’s stint at the “Sounds of Mardi Gras”: one of several excellent reasons to be there.  (Hint: make plans for 2020.)

May your happiness increase!

ON THE ROAD TO FRESNO (February 7-10, 2019): DAVE STUCKEY AND THE HOT HOUSE GANG

 

 

 

Tomorrow I’m on my way to Fresno — thanks to Delta, United, and Alaska Airlines.  Why?  Well, for Bob Schulz, Kim Cusack, Clint Baker, Marc Caparone, Jeff Hamilton, Carl Sonny Leyland . . . and Dave Stuckey and his Hot House Gang.  Here they are in a November 2016 Saturday-night dance gig at the San Diego Jazz Fest, with Dan Barrett, Corey Gemme, Nate Ketner, Carl Sonny Leyland, Katie Cavera, Gareth Price:

I hope to see you there.  But if I just smile and wave from behind my camera, don’t be offended: I will be too busy with good music.  Incidentally, I believe that the Hot House Gang at Fresno will be Marc Caparone, Nate Ketner, David Aus, and Sam Rocha — among others.  (All schedules subject to change.)  The point is that any ensemble with Dave Stuckey in it or in front of it can’t help but swing.  Had he been a few decades older, Jack Kapp and Eli Oberstein would have fought to sign him to record contracts, and he would have appeared in B pictures . . . . and he’d be legendary.  He is now.

May your happiness increase!

GRAB YOUR HIGHLIGHTERS: THE BAND SCHEDULE FOR FRESNO “SOUNDS OF MARDI GRAS” 2019 IS HERE (with some delightful MUSICAL EVIDENCE)

I’ve already posted this cheering bouquet of balloons, and I’m making my first trip to Fresno for “the sounds of Mardi Gras” early next month.  And not simply in hope of finding balloons.

Now, we can all get down to the delightful business of planning what to see and hear.  I’m sure there are people who simply amble through a festival, guided by the sounds they hear coming from one room or another.  But I’m a man with a mission: I know the bands I particularly want to hear and video . . . so I have to plan.  If I go to see X and her Jelly Whippers at 6, then I can’t (as Sir Isaac Newton reminds me) hear Y and her Joy Boys at the same time.  So either in the solace of my apartment or perhaps on the airplane, I bring out the highlighters so that I can plot and plan . . .
NEWS FLASH: as of January 25, some last-minute changes – – – –
On Friday, in Salon C/D, the morning – afternoon sequence is now Young Bucs / Yosemite / Climax / Tom Hook / High Sierra.  The evening sequence in C/D is now Bob Schulz, Dave Stuckey, and the rest unchanged.    As far as  my nearsighted eyes can tell, those are the only changes.  But the sole way to be sure you have the right schedule is to go to the Sounds of Mardi Gras and pick up the current paperwork.
I believe that an even larger version — spread it out on the floor so the whole family can play — can be found  here.  Since this is my maiden voyage to this festival, I haven’t any videos of my own to share.  But my colleagues have filled that need for years — one of them being the faithful Bill Schneider, who captured Bob Schulz’s band playing a lyrical YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY at the 2018 festival — with lovely work from Bob, Kim Cusack, Ray Skjelbred, Doug Finke, Scott Anthony, Jim Maihack, and Ray Templin:

and a very hot MONA LISA from a 2010 performance by the New El Dorado Jazz Band co-led by Hal Smith and Clint Baker, with Marc Caparone, Howard Miyata, Mike Baird, Carl Sonny Leyland, Katie Cavera, and Georgia Korba.  Not everyone in this band will be at the 2019 festival, but their music is preserved for us thanks to RaeAnn Berry:

I look forward to the 2019 banquet of good sounds.  For details, visit the festival’s website and their Facebook page.  But don’t take so long looking for the right color highlighter that this hot weekend passes you by.

May your happiness increase!

I HAVE A NEW DESTINATION FOR FEBRUARY 7-10, 2019. CARE TO JOIN ME?

Here’s the first clue: 

and the second:

Although February is brief on the calendar, it can be a long month for those of us, in New York and elsewhere, waiting for a thaw.  I have a cure I’ll be trying out in 2019 — the Fresno Sounds of Mardi Gras — which takes place from February 7-10 in the DoubleTree by Hilton in Fresno, California.  Rumors that I have fallen in with some strange linguistic cult (Pismo, CA, in October 2018, and now another place ending in a vowel) just aren’t true, and the people spreading such gossip should stop.  No, the reasons I’ll be there are musical (and the opportunity to meet some California hot-jazz pals).  Here’s a sample, in a video by Bill Schneider from 2018:

Bob told me that the band he’s bringing in 2019 has got the same personnel: himself, Doug Finke, Kim Cusack, Ray Skjelbred, Scott Anthony, Jim Maihack, and Ray Templin.

and there’s Grand Dominion, featuring Clint Baker, Gerry Green, Jeff Hamilton, and other spreaders of the gospel (video by Franklin Clay):

and Dave Stuckey and the Hot House Gang.  Since they are new to Fresno, I can’t draw on the Mardi Gras video trove but bring forward this delightfully raucous one, shot at the Saturday-night swing dance in 2016 at the San Diego Jazz Fest, featuring Dan Barrett, Nate Ketner, Corey Gemme, and other rascals:

Dave tells me that the Fresno Hot House Gang will have Marc Caparone, who’s also appearing with High Sierra on one of that venerable band’s last gigs, Nate Ketner, Sam Rocha, and David Aus on piano.

Here is the Facebook page for the 2019 blast.  And here is the complete band listing (I believe) for 2019 . . . click http://www.fresnodixie.com/badges-online for details about badges, pins, sponsorships, and other nifty artifacts.

I’ll be leaving my snow shovel behind for a weekend in early February, and I won’t miss it.  Even if there’s no snow where you are, the hot music is better than any pharmaceutical I know.  See you there.

May your happiness increase!

CHARLES IN CHICAGO (The Final Part): KIM CUSACK and ANDY SCHUMM (2018)

My friend Charles keeps on providing surprises from his Spring trip to Chicago, where he captured Kim Cusack and Andy Schumm on video at the Honky Tonk, although he assures me that this is The End of his Secret Stash.

Dear Michael,

I dug down into the video archives (where the videos sleep on the computer) and found six more little gems to share with you and your blog-audience.  These performances are a little more noisy — people gnawing on ribs and suchlike — but Kim and Andy come through beautifully.  I’ll be in New York at the start of October, and we shall meet . . . .

Your pal,

Charles

On the Mildred Bailey radio show, circa 1944-45, she refers to her selected jazz group (Teddy Wilson, Al Hall, Red Norvo, others) as her HOT HALF-DOZEN.  Here is the 2018 version of that collective noun:

YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME:

LIMEHOUSE BLUES:

JAPANESE SANDMAN:

TROUBLE IN MIND:

MELANCHOLY BABY:

INDIANA:

And since the Cornucopia According to Charles is now well and truly emptied, it’s up to you to get out and hear Kim and Andy — as a duo, or in other permutations — on your own.  No slacking, now.

May your happiness increase!

CHARLES IN CHICAGO (Part Two, Spring 2018): KIM CUSACK and ANDY SCHUMM at the HONKY TONK BBQ

If you don’t know who CHARLES is, you might want to catch up here.  I thought his beneficence had limits but happily I was wrong.  Yesterday, this note arrived, with musical treats attached.

Dear Michael,

Just a word to say how pleased I was you used my videos of Kim and Andy on JAZZ LIVES.  Makes me feel like chucking my job and videoing full-time.  You’ll have to let me in on your financial secrets.  Ha! 

But here are a few more I shot — hope they are OK.  The room got noisier, but I bet the Lincoln Gardens wasn’t silent either — although I doubt that there were loud kids in the joint.

With every good wish and looking forward to our NYC rendez-vous,

Charles. 

Friends of Fats:

and James P, too:

Quiet, now:

This one’s got some Bix-chords:

and the first half of the Official Carmen Lombardo Tribute:

Carmen wrote some wonderful tunes:

What a nice surprise.

May your happiness increase!

I CALL ON KIM CUSACK (Part Two): MARCH 27, 2018

Here is the first part of the video interviews I did with the Esteemed Mister Cusack — a great deal of fun, good anecdotes, well-told, and new information about everyone from George Brunis to Phyllis Diller: a great honor and pleasure for me.  Here’s the second part.

The first six segments were moderately autobiographical, but Kim doesn’t revel in himself as the only subject.  So in the videos you will see below, my request had been for Kim to talk of people he’d encountered and played with whom we might otherwise not have known, although some of the players are well-known to those who relish the music: Barrett Deems, James Dapogny, Truck Parham, Little Brother Montgomery.  Good stories, seriously rewarding insights not only into people but also into “the business,” including the Chicago underworld.

I’ll let the videos speak for themselves, as Kim does so well.

Norm Murphy and Frank Chace:

Art Gronwald and Little Brother Montgomery (this is for Ethan Leinwand):

Bobby Ballard, Bob Skiver, Floyd Bean:

Smokey Stover and Truck Parham:

Bob Cousins, Wayne Jones, Barrett Deems:

and finally for that afternoon, Kim’s portrait of our hero Jim Dapogny:

I  hope to visit Delavan, Wisconsin, again — to delight in the company of Kim and Ailene Cusack and Lacey, too.  And who knows what treasures I might bring back for you?

May your happiness increase!

GIFTS FROM CHARLES: KIM CUSACK and ANDY SCHUMM at the HONKY TONK BBQ

You never know where generosities are going to come from; they can be dear surprises.  On my trip to Wisconsin in March, I was disappointed that I couldn’t get to Chicago to hear Kim Cusack, clarinet / vocal; Andy Schumm, piano, at the Honky Tonk BBQ.

But I received an email — with attachments — the other day:

Dear Michael,

It’s been a long time since we were graduate students, and we haven’t been in touch.  I didn’t talk about it then — we were too worried about doctoral orals — but I was developing into a jazz fan, and I found you through your blog.  I was passing through Chicago at the end of March on my way to visit family in California, and thought I would bring the video camera I use for the grandkids.  Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so here are a few videos of Kim Cusack and Andy Schumm.  If you can use them on the blog, I’d be delighted.  

Keep well,

Charles

The fog of decades lifted — I’d last seen Charles Schultz (who got annoyed if someone called him “Snoopy”) in 1981.  But what a lovely gift!  Not just for me, but for all of us.  And he does first-rate work.

and

and

and, finally, with vocal refrain:

Charles and I have tentative plans to meet in New York in August.  What a pleasure that will be, and neither of us will video the other.

May your happiness increase!

I CALL ON KIM CUSACK (Part One): MARCH 27, 2018

Paul Asaro, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet

I admire the reedman and occasional vocalist Kim Cusack immensely and had done so through recordings for a long time before we met in person.  When we exchanged courtesies and compliments at a California festival — perhaps the San Diego Jazz Fest in 2011? — I was thrilled by his music as it was created on the spot, and I liked the man holding the clarinet a great deal.

A hero-worshiper, I found occasions to stand at the edge of a small circle when Kim was telling a story.  And what he had to tell us was plenty.  He never tells jokes but he’s hilarious with a polished deadpan delivery and the eye for detail of a great writer.

I had said to another hero, Marc Caparone, “I wish I could get Kim to sit for a video interview,” and Marc — ever the pragmatist — said, “Ask him!” I did, and the result was a visit to Kim and the endearing Ailene Cusack (she’s camera-shy but has her own stories) in their Wisconsin nest.

The results are a dozen vignettes: illuminating, sharply observed, and genuine.  Kim’s stories are about the lively, sometimes eccentric people he knows and has known.  I am honored to have had the opportunity, and I hope you enjoy the videos.  I know I did and do.

I’ve prefaced each video with a very brief sketch of what it contains.

Early days, going back to fifth grade, and early influences, including Spike Jones, moving up to high school and a paying gig, with side-glances at rock ‘n’ roll and the Salty Dogs:

From Career Day at Kim’s high school to early adulthood, and a seven-year stint teaching, with Eddy Davis, Darnell Howard, Mike Walbridge, James Dapogny, the Chicago Stompers, the Salty Dogs, Frank Chace, Marty Grosz, Lew Green, Wayne Jones, and the saga of Paul’s Roast Round:

From the Chicago Stompers and union conflicts to Art Hodes and Ted Butterman and Wayne Jones to Kim’s secret career as a piano player . . . and the elusive piano recording, and a mention of Davey Jones of Empirical Records:

Kim’s portraits of distinctive personalities Ted Butterman, Bob Sundstrom, Little Brother Montgomery, Booker T. Washington, Rail Wilson, Peter Nygaard, Phyllis Diller and her husband “Fang,” the Salty Dogs, Eddy Davis, George Brunis, Stepin Fetchit and OL’ MAN RIVER in Ab. Work with Gene Mayl and “Jack the Bear” on trumpet. And Barrett Deems!  (More Deems stories to come.)

More portraits, including Gene Mayl, Monte Mountjoy, Gus Johnson, the legendary George Brunis, Nappy Trottier, who “could really play,” Wild Bill Davison, Johnson McRee. And a playing trip to Alaska for three weeks with Donny McDonald and later Ernie Carson:

Scary airplane trips with the Gene Mayl band over Alaska, and a glance at the splendid pianist John Ulrich, a happy tourist:

I have six more vignettes to share, with memories of Norm Murphy, Frank Chace, Barrett Deems, Bob Skiver, Little Brother Montgomery, and more.  My gratitude to Kim and Ailene Cusack, for making this pilgrimage not only possible but sweet, rewarding fun.

May your happiness increase!

INSPIRED CENTRAL HEATING: THE RHYTHM ACES (ROY RUBINSTEIN, KIM CUSACK, ANDY SCHUMM, JIM BARRETT, JOHN WIDDICOMBE) March 26, 2018: PART FOUR

A hot band isn’t always easy to find.  This one — THE RHYTHM ACES — was and is memorable.

Here‘s what they played — eleven uplifting performances, for your dining and dancing pleasure — before this final offering of the evening.  For those who haven’t been following the lovely hot arc of performances, the band is trombonist Roy Rubinstein’s Rhythm Aces, and they performed at the Breakwater, in Monona, Wisconsin, on the evening of March 26, 2018.  I had the good fortune to be there as Kim Cusack’s guest, and could thus capture the sounds for posterity.  And what sounds!

To be official, that’s Roy, far right; Andy Schumm, cornet and clarinet, in the middle, with Kim, clarinet, alto, and vocal, rounding out the front line.  In the back, Jim Barrett, banjo, and John Widdicombe, string bass.

We start the good works with a two-clarinet excursion on SWEET SUE:

Kim explains the ways of the unseen San Francisco world in ACE IN THE HOLE (what a good singer he is!):

Fats Waller’s I’M MORE THAN SATISFIED:  (Incidentally, I would pay a substantial sum to hear a band perform a medley of this song and SATISFIED.)

and one of the classic the-evening-is-over songs, TILL WE MEET AGAIN, with a surprise at its center:

That last song seems prophetic: I now have very good reasons to go back to Wisconsin, and cheese is in no way part of them.

May your happiness increase!

 

IT’S SO GOOD: THE RHYTHM ACES (ROY RUBINSTEIN, KIM CUSACK, ANDY SCHUMM, JIM BARRETT, JOHN WIDDICOMBE) March 26, 2018: PART THREE

What follows is, of course, organic, locally sourced, cage-free, and pasture-raised.  Hot jazz that’s naturally sweet . . . no additives.  This is the third part of a two-hour performance by the Rhythm Aces, led by trombonist Roy Rubinstein, and featuring Kim Cusack on clarinet, alto, and vocal; Andy Schumm on cornet and clarinet; Jim Barrett, banjo; John Widdicombe, string bass — as they won the crowd at the Breakwater in Monona, Wisconsin, on March 26, 2018.  Here is what I recorded for parts one and two.

ARKANSAS BLUES (with Andy doing some very touching Hackett curves and wiggles):

DIPPERMOUTH BLUES, for Louis and Papa Joe:

POSTMAN’S LAMENT (which I associate with Johnny Wiggs and Dr. Souchon, as well as my own contemporary reaction to carrying a heavily loaded knapsack):

and what was seasonal music then, a little tardy now, Berlin’s EASTER PARADE:

More to come — and some surprises — from my Wisconsin sojourn.

May your happiness increase!

HOT IN THE HEARTLAND: THE RHYTHM ACES (ROY RUBINSTEIN, KIM CUSACK, ANDY SCHUMM, JIM BARRETT, JOHN WIDDICOMBE, March 26, 2018): PART TWO

A hot time was had by all last Monday night at the Breakwater in Monona, Wisconsin, when the Rhythm Aces swung out: Roy Rubinstein, trombone; Kim Cusack, clarinet, alto saxophone, vocal; Andy Schumm, cornet, clarinet; Jim Barrett, banjo; John Widdicombe, string bass.  Here is the first part of their heated rhapsody.

And some more of that good noise.

MY MONDAY DATE (as scored for two clarinets and rhythm section, in honor of Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra):

TROG’S BLUES (by and about clarinetist / cartoonist Wally Fawkes):

BILL BAILEY (sung by Kim with the essential-to-the-narrative verse):

More to come, thank goodness.

May your happiness increase!

HOT MUSIC IN MONONA, WISCONSIN: THE RHYTHM ACES (ROY RUBINSTEIN, KIM CUSACK, ANDY SCHUMM, JIM BARRETT, JOHN WIDDICOMBE, March 26, 2018): PART ONE

I made a forty-eight hour trip to Wisconsin earlier this week, in the name of hot music.  “Michael, don’t you have enough jazz in New York to keep you occupied over the Easter / Passover break?”  “Yes, but in New York we don’t have Kim Cusack,” I can reply.

So in that brief period I sat Kim in front of my camera and he talked — most engagingly — and we went to Monona, Wisconsin, to enjoy the Rhythm Aces, a small band led by trombonist Roy Rubinstein — which featured Kim on clarinet, alto saxophone, and vocal, Andy Schumm on cornet and clarinet, Jim Barrett on banjo, and John Widdicombe on string bass.  They play at the Breakwater on the fourth Monday of every month from 6 to 8.  And HOW they play.

You’ll hear that I do not exaggerate.

ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND:

A strain from TEDDY BEARS’ PICNIC:

RENT PARTY BLUES:

LINGER AWHILE:

And there’s more to come.  The fourth Monday of this April is the 23rd.  If I didn’t have an early-morning class on Tuesday . . .

It’s very reassuring to know that the Heartland is so Hot.

May your happiness increase!

PLEASING TO THE EAR: KIM CUSACK and PAUL ASARO IN DUET (August 31, 2015)

It’s no doubt very archaic of me, but I like music to sound good: to paraphrase Eddie Condon, to come in the ear like honey rather than broken glass.  And this duet recital by Kim Cusack, clarinet, and Paul Asaro, piano and vocal, is just the thing.  I hadn’t known of it when it was new, so I hope it will be a pleasant surprise to others: recorded at the PianoForte studios in Chicago, introduced by Neil Tesser of the Chicago Jazz Institute.

Kim and Paul gently explore a dozen songs, with roots in Waller, Morton, James P. Johnson, Isham Jones, and Walter Donaldson, Maceo Pinkard.  It’s a set list that would have been perfectly apropos in 1940, but there’s nothing antiquarian about this hour-long session . . . just two colleagues and friends in tune with one another making music.

For those keeping score, that’s A MONDAY DATE; SUGAR; I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING; I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY (vocal, Paul); OLD FASHIONED LOVE; RIFFS (Paul, solo); ON THE ALAMO; MISTER JELLY LORD (vocal, Paul); WOLVERINE BLUES; YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY; BLUE, TURNING GREY OVER YOU; BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME.  All standards of “the repertoire,” but played and sung with subtlety, charm, and life.

Postscript: PianoForte Studios was also home to another wonderful duet recital, guitarist Andy Brown and pianist Jeremy Kahn in 2017, which you can enjoy here.

May your happiness increase!